“We are all undergoing major reengineering and transformation at our institutions, to try to navigate for not only a surviving future, but a flourishing future,” said Barry Corey, president of Biola University, in our March 25 webinar on the future of theological education. Corey, Dean Abson Joseph of Wesley Seminary and Professor Ellen Marmon of Asbury Theological Seminary discussed what presidents, deans and faculty may not know about one another’s roles, and how we can collaborate better in these intensely challenging times.
Check out the video below to dive into the frank, provocative and very hopeful discussion that emerged when a president, a dean and a professor walked into a webinar.
And make a note on your calendar today to join us for two future opportunities that will carry the conversation forward!
Registration is now open for our annual Karam Forum gathering, which will take place in Ft. Worth in November 18-19. You can either join us live and in person, or via Zoom from wherever you are. Chris Brooks, Jennifer Powell McNutt, Gavin Ortlund, David French, Michael Wear and more will help us collaborate to build the future of theological education, with a focus on justice and discipleship.
Our final spring webinar is coming on April 15. The conversation will include:
- Scott Rae, Talbot School of Theology
- Jessie Swigart of Covenant Theological Seminary
- Philip Thompson of Sioux Falls Seminary
Our topic will be “Embracing the Slash after COVID.” More and more faculty have dual roles – we are faculty “slash” something else. Instead of laboring under this as a burden, how can we embrace the dual role as an opportunity to revitalize the shared governance model for faculty leadership?
The webinar will meet on Thursday, April 15 at 11:00-11:45am central time (noon eastern/9:00 Pacific). It will be free and there is no registration.
Just open this link when it’s time to start.
Put it on your calendar today!
And please spread the word – all are welcome.
As we look forward to future discussions on April 15 and November 18-19, check out the insights from our March 25 webinar below.
What I Wish My President/Dean/Faculty Knew in the New Reality
Our schools have inherited a model that sees education merely as obtaining information, which often produces the kind of disconnection between theological knowledge and real life that Darrell Bock spoke about at our last Karam Forum in January. This leaves students inadequately prepared for the challenges of the advanced modern world. The deeper and older tradition of theological education conceives of education as obtaining not just information, but formation. In the ON, we have been working toward a fresh expression of that tradition for our time.
In our March 25 webinar, Donald Guthrie of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School facilitated a discussion between a president, a dean and a faculty member on how we can better collaborate in the formative task of education. The conversation yielded delightful surprises and provocative challenges.
Asked what challenges he faced in his role, Corey said: “The burdens for presidents are greater than ever. As my old boss, Bob Cooley, longtime president of Gordon-Conwell, said, we bear a burden of accumulated grievances – difficult, intractable problems that are not resolved elsewhere end up on our desks.” He also mentioned the challenge of “conveying both hope and reality at the same time”; responding to “anxious constituencies”; and “the burden of loneliness – as presidents, we have no peer” in the institution.
Joseph stressed the unique position of deans as “in the middle” – reporting to the president, but also responsible to the faculty in a way that summons them to an uncomfortable dual stewardship. Deans carry “the burden of finding balance – balance between implementing the school’s mission and caring for the faculty, caring for students, caring for the institution.”
Marmon described how the challenge of teaching amid a pandemic made the usual tensions more acute. When “offering courses three, four, five different ways,” faculty can be left asking: “Do our deans, and does administration, really understand that it’s not just about relocating content? With every new platform of delivery, it’s a do-over. It’s a start from scratch.”
Marmon also stressed the need to “overcommunicate”: “It’s amazing to me, even in a really great community, silence can be filled with negative anticipation. If we don’t hear from the administration about issues regarding budget, or if we don’t hear from the dean about issues of, say, new course caps that have gone up, then – I think especially with the weariness – what happens is this: ‘Okay, the story in my head about that is…’” And the story that gets told in people’s heads is not generally constructive. Marmon pointed out that “just knowing the ‘why’ behind decisions is a huge help.”
Asked what is going well when it comes to collaboration, Joseph described a situation where seminary faculty came to the administration with some “pain points” in the seminary, but they turned out to have larger implications for the university. “The president of the university…created space for all the units to come together to ask, ‘what are the implications of these things for IWU students as a whole?’” They were able to identify and redress “gaps” in the overall student experience. “So there has been a really good collaboration that’s happening at the university level, that will benefit us….We’re learning from each other….‘Oh, this is happening well for you, how then do we bring that so the entire university can absorb those things?’”
Marmon praised “extra efforts” by administration leaders during the pandemic to join faculty meetings, to listen and to provide “access.” Marmon also observed that “knowing what we don’t know” has led to increased pedagogical collaboration among faculty: “For me one of the most enjoyable things that has come out of this is, faculty from the different schools getting together on a pretty regular basis, on Zoom, talking about how we’re teaching….It’s not necessarily the conversation we have with our faculty friends all the time. But now, since we’re doing new things, new iterations, we really are needing to learn from each other. And so, we just get online for 45 minutes or whatever, and say, ‘what are you doing that works?’ And we’re all in a position of feeling kind of vulnerable, and so we’re really ready to learn from each other.”
Corey noted that about six months before the pandemic, Biola had begun a new effort to “accelerate sluggish practices” and significantly reform its structures, in order to “anticipate the disruptions that are coming and be well prepared for them. And then COVID came, and COVID really wasn’t the change, COVID was the accelerant of the change.” He stressed his appreciation for strong deans and faculty, and the importance of making sure the president doesn’t become disconnected from them, “just because of margin” – time constraints require the president to be intentional about listening to stakeholders.
Check out the video above for much, much more. And don’t forget our February webinar with Tom Tanner of the Association of Theological Schools, in which we heard how theological education is growing and thriving even amid the pandemic – and how the new ATS standards open up much bigger opportunities.
Want more? Join our April 15 webinar with Scott Rae, Jessie Swigart and Philip Thompson!
Mark your calendar today for April 15 at 11:00-11:45am central time (noon eastern/9:00 Pacific) and make a note of this link.
That’s everything you need to join us for our next conversation.
We’ll see you then – in the meantime, spread the word to those who might also want to join!